Advice for Selecting an Acupuncture Practitioner

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Acupuncture, the ancient Chinese practice of healing through the insertion of needles into specific points on the body, first came to the attention of mainstream America in 1971, after New York Times reporter James Reston wrote enthusiastically about receiving the treatment. Reston had been traveling with President Richard Nixon in China when he had an emergency appendectomy, and acupuncture successfully treated his postoperative pain.

Today, millions of Americans have tried acupuncture, but locating and selecting a practitioner can be difficult. There are several types of acupuncture based on different philosophies, and the language (eight principles, five elements, the need to balance yin and yang) can be confusing.

A primary rule is to get advice from friends or people you trust who have received the treatment. Ask questions such as: Is your practitioner willing to work as a partner with your medical doctor? Does he or she take time to listen to the reasons you are seeking help? Robert M. Duggan, president of the Tai Sophia Institute, says that a serious conversation between patient and practitioner, discussing general health and life concerns, is key to treating the whole patient, rather than just the illness.

You can also get advice from conventional medical doctors. In addition to doctors who cooperate with acupuncturists, some have been trained in the practice themselves. Most get their training at the Helms Medical Institute in Berkeley, Calif., whose courses are sponsored by the medical schools at Stanford University and the University of California at Los Angeles. To locate such doctors, go to Click on "1000 grads" at the bottom of the page.

When you consider a practitioner, make certain of several things:

-- Any needles used must be single-use and disposable.

-- If herbs are prescribed, check all interactions with prescription drugs.

-- Check with your insurance carrier in advance of treatment: Some cover acupuncture and others don't. Still others will cover it to treat only certain conditions.

Any acupuncture practitioner you consider should be licensed. Requirements vary by jurisdiction; check the following Web sites:

In the District: Click on "Professional Licensing Boards," then "Acupuncture."

In Maryland:

In Virginia: Click on "Advisory Boards."

For other information:

-- The National Association of Oriental Medicine:

-- The American Academy of Medical Acupuncture:

-- Tai Sophia Institute:

-- Ellen Edwards

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